How to improve your tug company?

Said my piece, leaving this subject alone. Different strokes for different folks. Hope whatever preference you have works out.

I can get some nice chocolates, a decent flower arrangement or some goofy kids toy for $50. If I told my wife or kids I was going to skip the Valentines or Birthday gift & give them 15 cents a day for 365 days to make up the $50 instead they’d have me committed to an institution. I ain’t buying no fantasy story from an employer that my holiday money is actually in my paycheck already. I was born in a hospital but it wasn’t yesterday.


But you buy the fantasy that employers are flint hearted bastards 364 days out of the year, but on Xmas their hearts grow ten times their size.

There is only the pie…

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I like pie. Especially pumpkin pie. If I can only have 1 pumpkin pie a year I want it on Thanksgiving. Not 730 itty bitty pieces of pie split between my relief & I over 365 days.

Pretty sure I have mentioned this in other threads, but here I go again. I started going to sea, deep sea, so I was used to the 4/8 shifts. When I moved to tugs, most were single engineer, and I would keep the same hours (4/8), and then answer alarms as needed when not on watch. I then moved to an ATB. The wheelhouse was 4/8, but the engine room was 6/6. With the added work of the barge (with its generators, pumps, etc.), it was a real grind on both me and my assistant. I lobbied for and got another engineer and while still a grind, it was far more workable.

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This is just not true. That’s like saying there’s a set amount of money companies are willing to pay for fuel, and any more and they’ll immediately raise their rates to compensate for it. That’s not how you do your fuel surcharges so I don’t know how you’re saying that’s how you do your wages.

The fact is wages go up and down slower and less rationally than other costs, and stories about pie help. So does company culture, safety, WiFi, and leadership. A big part of any leadership position is getting the most out of guys making comparatively shit money. They don’t quit and go make $20 more a day because pie, they stay because they feel like they’re part of a team.

Your team tells people once they have seniority they won’t have to work holidays and I tell my team it’s a sport, not a job, and Tom Brady plays on Thanksgiving too. Other teams shell out more cash. Competition, culture, and labor availability make that work or not.

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These are not limited to tug companies but in general for any company these are some items I believe improve retention and job satisfaction.

  • On-time crew changes
  • paid for travel with the most direct flights (no crazy layovers)
  • being paid the correct amount
  • getting correct sealetters
  • having reliable and half way decent food stores,
  • Also having office personal that have been on the same tugs and understand the tugs limits / what they are capable of. Even just having mariners in the office in general is better than not.

A note about the 6x6 I believe its not bad in short stints but for longer hitches its draining. 12s can be better unless you bust your butt for 12 hours straight then work over they can be worse than 6x6s. The fact of the matter is tug life is get the job done and be up when you need to be up and when you are able to sleep, then sleep.
Taking short naps are key to not getting too fatigued but they aren’t a long term solution


The default mindset for mariners is that companies are run by flint-hearted bastards who account for every single cent. Do they then believe these same money-grubbing beancounters never account for the cost of holiday pay in their ledgers? That employers just pay it from a slush fund, not in the books?

I suppose there are companies out there who have no idea how much their annual expenses are going to be, who have no idea who much they are going to pay their employees, who cannot anticipate overtime, and who are blindsided by the arrival of holidays.

More likely is a marine business that budgets everything on a per-voyage basis. The more predictable an expense is (wages) the more exactly it will be budgeted. Fuel expense is budgeted, but it is variable. Hence fuel surcharges. Damage expenses are budgeted, but unpredictable. Hence insurance. But companies don’t imposes wage surcharges.

Wages are usually predictable. A company desiring good workers will max out the available funds in order to attract/retain the best workers, and budget accordingly. That’s the pie. Holiday pay is baked into the pie, as surely as overtime. That’s all I’m saying. I fail to understand the furor over this.

If other people like holiday pay, it doesn’t offend me. Where I work the officers decided not to have a holiday pay system because they know how the pie works, and they made an informed financial decision that everyone simply get a slightly bigger piece of the pie every paycheck, because any given worker is statistically more likely to and up with more money at the end of the year. A rational financial decision, as opposed to an emotional one. Why is this so controversial?

Improve not just a tug company, but every shipping company.

1: Unionize it

2: Good benefits, a seafarers dependents shouldn’t have to do 700 pages of paper work for every doctor/dentist appointment, likewise the retirement plan should be good, if someone works 30+ years for a company they should be able to retire comfortably, and good death benefits, any seafarer should know that in the event of their death, their family will be taken care of.

3: Food, this often gets overlooked, but a bad galley equals low morale.

4: DO NOT micromanage, there is nothing more annoying than having someone over your shoulder while you work, and this includes; captains, C/E’s and 1st’s.

5: Chances for advancement


That might be a pretty good guess. Saltchuk has pretty good benefits. Foss pays well, but the wages at their non union acquisitions are on the low side.

When you see the crew working on some of their recently acquired company boats, it’s a apparent that they are getting what they are paying for. They are also advertising for warm bodies.

RE: Your last bullet point, start with an office staff that doesn’t view the crew as their enemy.

I would be happy with an office staff that simply had a clue. Gee where do I start?

Orders for a great lakes job when we are too large for the Welland Canal. Then insisting we can fit after we tell them no way.

Orders to load 140k of product in a 130k barge.

Giving us 25k of fuel when we tell them we need 50k.

Telling us to simply throw our broken equipment over the side. Yes I know this gets done but you should not order that in an email.

Insisting we use the “company” anti freeze when we know it eat through the after coolers.

Telling us that the main circuit breaker tests good, when it randomly opens for no reason causing a dead boat with no steering.

Another office brain child, calling tankermen second mates, even putting that on their sea time letters.

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I can’t speak for Great Lakes. When the last company I worked for downsized, did provide decent training to move the tankerman and “Barge Captains” to a licensed position. Some (Not all) eventually became very good watch standers and a few ended up as well respected captains. Was just the push they needed. Am still friends with the ones still alive and happily retired. Was a “Barge Captain” very early in my career because it paid better than Mate at the time, and not much less than the Captain. Of course that changed, so did I. No regret, I knew most peoples jobs with one exception. Could turn wrenches with the best of them, changed oil, cleaned strainers from crap in the ditch, fueled the vessel,and many other engine related jobs. You have seen my posts regarding good engineers. That did not make me an engineer, I was part of the many undermanned crews that made it work for them. He could fix the broken shit, I just worked with what he told me to do. No regrets and learned a lot. Subject was how to improve your tug company. Respect the people who you work with goes a long way.They will be important on your resume going forward.


Pay for license upgrades and renewals, mandatory classes, TWC and passport renewals. Any expense that I don’t need otherwise, she’s be part of the operating budget. License upgrades can be expensive. Pay as a portion after the upgrade if they remain at the company. Half after six months, the balance after six months or a year sailing in that capacity.